I've met two kinds of photographers in my travels. There's the Frugal Photographer who eagerly tries all the cheap and free photo tools. These folks scour the Web for freebies like Windows Live Photo Gallery and Google's Picasa. They use programs like Paint.NET as a free alternative to commercial programs like Adobe Photoshop. And they like hearing about one-trick photo tools that do interesting things--for free.
Then there's the Snobby Photographer. These folks won't consider using a program that doesn't have a three-digit price tag. Sure, the can justify that decision by claiming that cheap software doesn't have the highest quality JPEG rendering algorithm or it's missing some high-end color management feature. But let's be honest: We don't always need the Space Shuttle; sometimes a hot air balloon is more than enough to get the job done. It's in that spirit that I wanted to remind you about a perfectly cromulent photo tool that comes in every edition of Windows: Microsoft Paint.
Take Microsoft Paint to a New Level
Just about everyone has fiddled with Paint, if for no other reason than it comes for free with Windows and it gives you something to do when you're learning your way around the operating system. Some people, though, have taken Paint to a whole new level. Check out this stunning picture on Deviantart.com, for example: Believe it or not, it was created entirely from scratch in Paint.
You can find Paint in the Accessories folder in the Start menu; in Windows 7, just type Paint in the Start menu's search box. Let's take a quick look at four tools in Paint that let you make make quick edits to your photos. I'll use the Windows 7 version of Paint, which has gotten a massive facelift thanks to the ribbon.
Crop a Photo
Perhaps the single most common task in all of digital photography is cropping--and you can do it easily right from Paint. Just click the Select button, make sure Rectangular Selection is turned on, and then draw a box on the photo. When you've selected the region you want to crop, click the Crop button. That's it. (There are no crop size presets, though, so you can't crop a photo to a 4-by-6 or 8-by-10 aspect ratio.)
Resize a Photo
Need to make a photo smaller? I do it all the time--for e-mail, for publishing images on the Web, and for including in documents. It's a snap to do this in Paint. Click the Resize button and enter the new size you want. You've got some options: You can size the photo to a specific number of pixels or just specify what percentage you want to resize by. And while you'll generally want to keep the aspect ratio of the photo intact, you can clear the check box for "Maintain aspect ratio" and distort the photo by setting different values for Horizontal and Vertical.
Rotate a Photo
Of course, Paint lets you spin the photo around as well--something you might need to do if someone sends you a photo lying on its side, or your camera doesn't automatically rotate photos when they're copied to the PC. Just click the Rotate button and choose the direction and amount of the rotation.
Increase the Size of the Canvas
You already know how to make the photo bigger or smaller, but what if you want to add some white space around the photo--in other words, make the canvas bigger without enlarging the photo itself? To do that, click the menu button to the left of the Home tab and then click Properties. At the bottom of the Image Properties dialog box, you'll see the current size of the photo in pixels. Need a border? Enter larger numbers in the Width and Height fields and click OK. Paint will add those extra pixels added as a plain white background to the right and below the photo. Want to center the photo in the new canvas? Select it (using the Select button and the Rectangular Selection tool) and drag the photo to a central location on the canvas.
Hot Pic of the Week
Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.
Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 640 by 480 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.
This week's Hot Pic: "Drops on Bamboo" by Ed Hesse, Bellingham, Washington
Ed writes: "Here in Oregon, we get daily fog as well as a fine mist in the morning. The bamboo plant near my front porch collects millions of these tiny drops. As I had my morning coffee on the porch, I took this with my free hand using a Canon Powershot A720is."
This week's runner-up: "Red Sun Over Puget Sound" by Tom Kurtz, Steilacoom, Washington
Tom writes: "The wildfires in British Columbia produced a lot of smoke that blew south over the Puget Sound and produced unusual sunsets on August 1, 2010. I took this from my house using my Nikon D5000."
This story, "Four Ways Photographers Can Use Microsoft Paint" was originally published by PCWorld.